Saturday, November 28, 2009

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is well under way. The coming weeks with all the shopping, parties, and Christmas celebrations are typically the most stressful of the year. It’s easy to let unrealistic expectations, bad experiences, frustrations, and overbooked schedules interfere with our focus on the reason for the season. How can we manage the stress that will inevitability visit us; We need to do as Dr. Gary Smalley suggests in The DNA of Relationships and practice good self-care. We can picture ourselves as huge batteries with terminals on top for charging and sockets on the sides where people “plug” in to fill their own needs. As long as we get daily re-charged with God’s love, we can relay love to others. We need to daily connect to our power source in order to share his love.

Jesus’ greatest commandment tells us the heart of good self-care.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your minds, and all your strength.” His second commandment tells us to care for others. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 23:37-40)

The busy Christmas season often brings more stress and depression than peace and joy. Smalley defines stress as “the gap between what we expect ourselves and others to do and what actually happens.” By adjusting our expectations, we can manage our stress and experience the joy of Christmas. Smalley offers four actions in his self-care program. I’ve described my attempts to implement this program in my life.

4-Step Self-Care Program

1. Start off the day by reducing earthly expectations.
Our expectations should be God’s expectations and his timeframe. This is a challenge because I usually want my life to follow my own will and timeline.
Prayer: “The Lord is my shepherd and I will never want again. I will graze in green pastures, by quiet waters, expecting only that God will continually restore my soul and guide me every day to righteousness.”

2. Believe that everything that happens to you has been filtered by God.
When I face painful, unfortunate, or confusing circumstances, I must hold on to the belief that God is always in control. He is always at work for our good.
Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes."

3. Every upsetting experience is an opportunity to worship God.
How can I use my frustrations to draw closer to Christ? I can remember that God is my provider and protector. I can reframe my disappointments by looking for the lessons I can learn. I can see that struggles are an opportunity to hunt for the treasures that come when we turn negatives into positives. James 1:2 illustrates this treasure hunt, “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy.” In my joy I can sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

4. Rest in God, listen quietly, and ask him what he’s telling me to do.
When facing stressful situations, I know that I must “be still and know that he is God.” It is in being still and listening to him that I will know what he wants me to do. I will ask God to show me his will.

Prayer: Father, show me your ways and teach me your paths (Psalm 25:4). Help me to walk in your truth and focus my heart on you (Psalm 86:11).

Giving Thanks

Saturday, November 21, 2009

While our country has celebrated a time of Thanksgiving since the Pilgrim days, we are not the first country to recognize the importance of giving thanks. God commanded the Israelites to celebrate seven feasts over seven months starting in spring and ending in fall. Three of these feasts were to honor God for the harvest. The Feast of Firstfruits was the time to present God the first fruits of the barley harvest. The Feast of Harvest celebrated the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Tabernacles was the time to give thanks for the olives, dates, and figs. The period of the feasts always included sacrifice, praise and thanksgiving. As families do today on Thanksgiving Day, the Israelites drew together to celebrate and worship God and to commemorate their history.

Showing thankfulness to God for his love and care permeates the Bible and often includes the theme of sacrifice, thanksgiving, and praise.

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. Psalm 107:22

Especially during the Thanksgiving season we are reminded to offer thanks for the abundance in our lives. Even during this time of economic crisis, we have much to be thankful for. Let’s follow the pattern of the Israelites and offer sacrifice, praise, and thanksgiving.

Sacrifice – We can make a sacrificial gift to feed those who may go hungry during our season of plenty. We can offer God the sacrifice of our time spent it devotion and service for him.

Praise – God wants us to sing our praises to him. Praising God reminds us of his greatness. It is through praise that we feel his presence. The NIV Bible says that Christian praise is the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of His goodness and grace . The words “Praise the Lord” appear in over 50 verses. Use these verses as a reminder to tell God of his greatness.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2
Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Psalm 103:22
Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. Psalm 104:1
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6

Thanksgiving – This year my family will incorporate the Legend of the Five Kernels in our Thanksgiving celebration. This tradition stems from the starvation period when the Pilgrims were struggling to survive. The story holds that they rationed corn to five kernels a person. The following spring the corn crop thrived. The five kernels is a way to remember the sacrifices of the past and to be thankful for our blessings. This year my family will find five kernels at their table setting and we will express thanksgiving with these reminders:
• The first kernel reminds us of the autumn beauty.
• The second kernel reminds us of our love for God.
• The third kernel reminds us of our family's love.
• The fourth kernel reminds us of our friends.
• The fifth kernel reminds of our freedom.

Above all, celebrate the goodness and greatness of God!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

According to research studies over a 30 year period, the Japanese island of Okinawa is the best place on earth for healthy aging. This island has:

More people over 100 years old per 100,000 population than anywhere else in the world
The highest life expectancy for both males and females over 65
The lowest death rates from cancer, heart disease, and stroke

While healthy eating and exercise have contributed to their longevity, the Okinawans credit their long lives to what they call ikigai (eek-y-guy), or a “sense of purpose.” The studies showed that these islanders were generally unstressed and maintained a positive outlook on life. They demonstrated good coping skills and a deep sense of spirituality, meaning, and purpose even when circumstances were bleak.

Ikigai can be described in English as life-satisfaction or as that which makes life worth living. The French call this raison d’etre, “a reason for being.”

Aren’t these the characteristics that should describe a Christ-filled life? Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have a sense of purpose? Shouldn’t we, like the Okinawans, maintain a positive outlook even in bleak circumstances?

How can Christians fully possess ikigai? How can we live a life that is full of purpose?
I believe our purpose in life is to glorify God and to express our love for him through a joyful life.

That God in all things may be glorified. - 1 Pet. 4:11.
Worship the Father in spirit and in truth for the Father seeks such to worship Him. -John 4:23
I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. - John 15:11

To glorify God is to worship him. Campus Crusade for Christ describes expressions of worship that glorify God:
Worship through prayer
Worship through the Word
Worship through Christian love
Worship through service
Worship through evangelism
Worship through missions
Worship through music

In other words, to glorify God means to honor him through what we say, act, and think. The God of peace promises to be with us when we honor him with our words, our actions, and our thoughts. This life of peace he promises is a life of ikigai.

When we make it our passion to glorify God, we will experience ikigai. It is then that we will have the abundant life, and that’s the life worth living.

Thought Power

Saturday, November 7, 2009

All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” James Allen

You might not recognize the name James Allen, but his works have had a major influence on the self-improvement industry. Author of 20 works before dying at the age of 48, his best known work was a booklet entitled, As a Man Thinketh. Published in 1902, the title comes from Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Allen encouraged readers to make their dreams become a reality through the power of thought.

Inspired by Allen, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale blended his Christian beliefs into a message of positive thinking pioneering what became known as Christian Psychology. Peale lived by the words, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” The writings of both Allen and Peale were pre-cursors of positive psychology and the positive thinking movement today.

Didn’t the Apostle Paul preach the same message of the power of positive thinking in his letter to the Philippians?

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8 & 9

In this chapter Paul urges Christians not to worry about anything but to trust God. In these verses Paul encourages us to practice the power of positive thinking. He says that when we do this, the God of peace will be with us.

Paul makes a list of fine thoughts:
1. True – We are inundated by false teachings and the lies of the world. We should think about the truth that God will never let us down.
2. Noble - We should think on things of high moral principles, holy things.
3. Right – We should think on things that are right according to God’s laws, things just in God’s eyes.
4. Pure – Purity means morally undefiled. Our thoughts should be so clean that they can stand the scrutiny of God.
5. Lovely – Instead of thinking of bitterness, fear, punishment, and criticism, we should think of lovely things such as kindness, sympathy, and tolerance.
6. Admirable– The Greek word means fair-speaking. This would eliminate gossip, critical words, ugly words, and curse words. We should think words that are fit for God to hear.
7. Excellent – We should think in terms of the highest virtue. This means every kind of excellence, whatever is the highest level any task or job.
8. Praiseworthy – We should think about living in a way that could be praised by others, yet we should not seek or desire praise.

If Ralph Waldo Emerson’s saying, “The ancestor of every action is a thought,” is true, then our fine thoughts will become fine actions.

We’ll truly have thought power if we change our thoughts, change our actions, and change the world!

All Saints Day

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day, November 1st, is a day set aside to celebrate the lives of faithful Christians. It began as a day to honor Christians who were martyred in the Roman persecutions. In medieval England the recognition was called All Hallows Day with the preceding evening known as Halloween. Over time, All Saints Day came to be recognized as the time to commemorate all departed Christians.

The word saint conjures up images of perfect Christians known for their holiness. However, the New Testament refers to followers of Christ as saints living on earth. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul referred to the followers in Corinth as, “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling….” Paul addressed letters to the saints of the churches at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1) Philippi (Philippians 1:1) and Colossae (Colossians 1:2). The author of Hebrews tells the readers to “Greet all of your leaders and all the saints” (Hebrews 13:24).

1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to saints, not on earth, but in heaven, “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

On All Saints Day some congregations hold special services to remember the names and lives of church members who died during the past year. Other churches provide opportunities for their congregation to remember those who served as personal heroes of the faith. I have benefited from the encouragement of Christian saints all of my life. In fact, I can trace the spiritual journey of my childhood by recalling the names of these departed saints:

Mrs. Dibbrell and Mrs. McCay rocked me and sang Christian songs to me in the church nursery.
Miss Alyce Chatwell greeted me with a hug every Sunday morning in Sunday School and taught me Bible stories using the flannel board.
Miss Ellie Bell introduced me to new books each week in the church library and gave me stickers in the Summer Reading Program when I finished reading books.
Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lamb taught me how to use my Bible in weekly Bible drills. They made memorizing the names of every book in the Bible and finding scripture passages a worthy competition.
Mr. Joe Parks fostered in me a love for singing from the time I was a child until I graduated from high school as he led the music program at my church.
Mrs. Rosa Jo Smith taught me the importance of faithfulness in study as she led our youth department.

While it’s important to reflect on the role of saints who are no longer with us, it is good to take time periodically to acknowledge the influence of living Christian saints. Isn’t it important to express gratitude to living servants? At least one time a year, my dad made a point to call the Christian men who had impacted his life just to express his gratitude. Wouldn’t you like to be the recipient of such a call from someone whose life you influenced? As saints of Christ Jesus we’re not called to be perfect but to keep moving forward in our relationship with him. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Let’s strive to live a life worthy of our calling…the calling of a saint.

Who are the saints, both departed and living, who have influenced your faith journey? What can you do to remember them in a special way?
Feel free to share the names of the saints in your life. Click on the title All Saints Day. Scroll to the bottom and write a comment.

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